Brought Up “By Hand”: Victorian Artificial Feeding Practices




Brinham, Anna

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The widespread practice of hand-feeding in the 19th century led to the death of 90% of artificially fed babies as feeding devices were unhygienic, lead-soldered, and contained unpasteurized, unrefrigerated, and adulterated animal milks. Superstitions surrounding the ability of breast milk to carry wet nurses’ undesirable traits and to be soured by semen contributed to a decline in breastfeeding in the 1700s, which was later compounded by industrialization and rural-to-urban migration. Although breast milk was hailed as the best infant food by physicians, maternal and neonatal illness, maternal death, foundlings, the decline of wet nursing and women entering the workforce drove many mothers to rely on the convenience and “scientific” nature of artificial feeding. The promotion, socioeconomic trends, and mechanics of hand-feeding – including how the design and use of feeding vessels determined whether an infant fed actively or passively – provide a comprehensive portrait of artificial feeding in the 19th century as modern science illuminates the unsanitary conditions which sparked high infant mortality rates.



Artificial feeding, Hand-feeding, Wet nursing, Foundlings, Breastfeeding, Breast milk, Industrialization, Migration, Lead poisoning, Pasteurization, Passive feeding, Active feeding